Boans Department Store – Perth.

Over the last century, the way we shop has changed a lot – from small shops, to mail order catalogues, to large department stores, to the boutique phenomenon of the ’60s and ’70s, to the large shopping centres of more recent decades – and now in the inner city we’re going back to smaller specialist shops whilst for many it’s still about heading to a large suburban mall.

The 1920s and 1930s in particular were a boom time for department stores – and although their numbers have dwindled, you can still see their beautiful structures in many cities and towns. Can you imagine shopping for dresses in a salon-style environment where you might relax with a cup of tea whilst beautifully coiffured and dressed models paraded gowns for your selection? You can see similar scenes in films like “How to Marry a Millionaire”, “Vertigo” and “The Women” (1939 version). It must have been quite wonderful – especially compared to today’s shopping experience where you’re faced with racks of clothing and don’t know where to start.

As a vintage clothing retailer, I try to combine the best of modern and old styles of shopping, to produce a pleasant environment – so I’m always pleased to find photos of old shops and their displays. They make wonderful sources for inspiration.

A lady with an interest in local history has found a large cache of photos at Perth’s state library and loaded them up to Facebook – I can recommend the community “Beautiful buildings and cool places Perth has lost” but it was the photos of Boans Department store that made my heart race.

Boans was Perth’s largest and oldest department store, opened in 1895 and rebuilt in 1912 to the building you see below. It sat between Wellington and Murray Streets, opposite the train station and was sold to Myer in 1985. The following year it was demolished to make way for the Forrest Chase shopping centre. At one time it was the largest employer in Western Australia, and had many suburban and country branches.

I remember Boans quite well – I used to go shopping there as a child in the late ’70s and would buy haberdashery and fabrics for my home-sewn dresses. It was a charmingly old fashioned shop and looked very much as it is in the photos below – but by that time it must have seemed very out of date and most shoppers were going elsewhere.

Here are some photos of Boans from the ’30s, ’40s and ’50s – if you click on each, it will come up in full size.

Update: a book has just been published about the store: Boans for Service: The story of a department store 1895-1986 by David Hough. Might have to pick up a copy.

Boans Department Store – 1930s.

Boans Department Store – 1940s

Boans Department Store – 1950s

All images courtesy Battye Library with thanks to Michelle Turner and Facebook community “Beautiful buildings and cool places Perth has lost”